Patriot Leader Nathanael Greene Is Repulsed But Not Defeated in His Campaign to Chase the British from the South Carolina Backcountry
After the March 1781 Battle of Guilford Courthouse, near modern-day Greensboro, North Carolina, Patriot Major General Nathanael Greene marched his men toward what was then the small village of Camden, a major garrison for the British. On April 20, he set up camp near this spot. The residential area you see here was completely undeveloped at that time, covered with pine woods and sandy soil, and flanked on the east by springs and swamp. Greene hoped to surprise British commander Lieutenant Colonel Francis, Lord Rawdon, who was garrisoned at Camden, but Rawdon anticipated the Patriots’ arrival. He led a force of 900 men to attack Greene’s army of about 1,550 at mid-morning on April 25. Although Greene’s army outnumbered Rawdon’s, the Continental soldiers were shaken during combat when Captain William Beatty was killed and Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Ford was wounded. With the loss of those regimental officers, the Patriot line wavered. Seizing the opportunity, the British charged up Hobkirk Hill and broke through the American center, prompting Greene to retreat. Patriot casualties included 270 killed, wounded, and missing. British losses were 38 killed, 177 wounded, and 43 missing.
After this engagement, Greene reported to the Continental Congress: “Our Army is in good spirits, and this little repulse will make no alteration in our general plan of operation. ... We fight, get beat, rise and fight again,” he wrote on April 28, 1781, to the French Chevalier de La Luzerne. Greene remained focused on his long-term goal — to chase the British out of rural South Carolina by attacking their depots and forts all the way down to Charleston. And he was successful. As British outposts fell, Camden became unsafe for the British. Rawdon abandoned the post on May 10, 1781. The British occupational force never held the central backcountry of South Carolina again.
April 25, 1781
Friends and colleagues Vincent Sheheen and Henry McMaster chat about the role of South Carolina in the American Revolution, The Liberty Trail program, and the potential for our shared history to serve as common ground in the face of national division.